How does dream feel

Why some dreams seem so real - and how you can control them

An illegal street race, right outside the front door - cracks, squeaks, bleeding people and there is one who is already being treated on a stretcher. With this description a woman called the police in Bad Wörishofen in Bavaria. The patrol went to her and there was: nothing. Police report that it was discovered that the woman had dreamed and thought her dream was so real that she called the officers.

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Why are dreams often so real?

This is an extreme case of course, but a lot of people have dreams that feel very real. We spoke to a sleep expert for the SWR3 afternoon show with Marcus Barsch. Prof. Michael Schredl, head of the sleep laboratory at Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim, explains that children in particular dream very vividly and "first have to learn that these subjective, real experiences during sleep are actually dreams."

It always feels real in a dream

It is easier for adults: if they dream of monsters, then our logical understanding tells us that this is not possible. “It becomes difficult when the dreams take place in a realistic environment. That means, when you dream that something is happening on my doorstep, it becomes much more difficult to distinguish between awake and dream, ”says the expert.

When we dream we think we are awake. That is, the dream experience is exactly like the waking life and only when you wake up and look back at the dream do you know that it is a dream. But the more realistic a dream is - if you dream something that can actually happen - then you need a while and then you have to check the reality, whether that was actually a dream or actually happened.

Michael Schredl, sleep specialist in an interview with SWR3

Reality check: how do I know it's a dream?

You always say "Pinch me so I know that I'm not dreaming." That is actually not a good tip. In the sleep laboratory in Mannheim, the scientists carried out experiments that showed that people can experience pain even in dreams - so no difference to reality. “You have to attach it to the content. That means: Are the things that have occurred in the dream really that possible and probable? And if it is possible and likely, I would still get a second opinion. "

That can take a moment. Because the brain switches to sleep mode while dozing off - and it has to get out of it first. According to experts, it can take up to 15 minutes to wake up properly again. So: First wait with the reality check and then approach it with all your senses.

Can we control dreams?

In the so-called lucid dream - experts call this lucid dream - we are aware that we are dreaming. Here it is also possible to influence what happens in the dream. Half of the people have experienced this before, say scientists from the University of Nijmegen. They research precisely this control of dreams.

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There are many calculations in science about how often this particular phase of dreaming occurs, but it is not really clear because one often simply does not remember. Studies by the University of Vienna indicate that people who often have nightmares are particularly prone to lucid dreams. One reason could also be that these people remember dreams particularly well.

You can learn lucid dreams

What is special about lucid dreams: Our brain has access to logic. “This is exactly what is also reflected in the brain activity. In the very frontal areas in particular, directly behind the forehead, we see significantly more activity, basically like when we are awake, ”explains neuroscientist Professor Martin Dresler from the University of Nijmegen to the SWR. One can learn to come into this lucid dream:

A common strategy is to ask yourself several times during the day: Am I awake now or am I dreaming? If you do this often enough, especially in unusual or dream-like situations, then it carries over into the dream and in the dream I also start to ask myself: Am I awake now or am I dreaming?

Exercise while you sleep

We can even practice in this particular form of dream. Scientists from Heidelberg have tested this. They had subjects toss coins. A group of people also practiced in the lucid dream - their hit rate when throwing was better the next morning.

"A sleeper who is aware that he is dreaming can decide to wake up, to observe the action specifically or to actively influence the dream event," explains Dr. Daniel Erlacher from Heidelberg Institute for Sport and Sport Science.

You can find out more about how you can influence dreams here

Why do I sometimes think that I was awake even though I was asleep?

The dream and the waking state are obviously not that far apart. This does not only apply to how realistic dreams can be or how consciously we can intervene in them - conversely, we sometimes think that we have been lying awake all night, although that is not true. Researchers at the University of Freiburg have investigated this phenomenon through a special wake-up study. They came up with this because sleep researchers repeatedly stated that most of their patients, who allegedly suffer from insomnia, sleep around 80 percent of the night when examined in a sleep laboratory. The patients themselves were convinced that they had been awake for half of the night.

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To investigate this more closely, the scientists observed 27 people with sleep disorders and 27 people without sleep disorders for several nights. The study participants were repeatedly woken up with a beep in the sleep laboratory under observation. After every waking up they asked who was awake and who they thought had just slept. In addition, the test sleepers had to tell what they had dreamed of.

Every sixth person dreams of insomnia

The result was something really astonishing: Although everyone was demonstrably asleep, every sixth participant in the study with sleep problems was sure that they had been awake. This made it clear to the scientists that many sufferers build worries about a sleep disorder into their dreams. So they dream that they are not asleep and then assume that they were awake at the time.

According to the scientists, there is usually a trigger for this phenomenon. This could be stress, for example, or strong pressure to perform - an upcoming exam, for example, and the fear of sleeping badly the evening before and then not being fit enough at the crucial moment.

Nightmare Therapy for Sufferers

The Freiburg researchers also found that it makes no difference to the patient whether the sleep disorder was objectively measurable or only existed in a dream.

The scientists want to use their findings to find better treatment options in the future. For example, nightmare therapy could help if not sleeping is only a dream.

You can find out more about the Freiburg Weck Study here